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V/H/S Review: Blood, Gore, Breasts, And Boredom

By TK | Film Reviews | October 8, 2012 | Comments ()


vhs-trailer-red-band.jpg

Like many horror anthologies, V/H/S entwines a series of short films around a single central narrative. The project, created by Brad Miska, features a quintet of wildly divergent tales that are loosely tied together by the main arc entitled Tape 56, and is comprised of directorial efforts by a series of semi-noted and unknown indie film makers, including Ti West, Joe Swanberg, and Adam Wingard. It's another entry in the "found footage" genre, with the premise being that the events unfolding are anywhere from recent to about 15 years old and captured off of either old VHS videocassettes or digital footage.

Unfortunately, that premise leads to the first shortcoming that afflicts all six narratives, which is the excessive shaky-cam and the persistent and aggravating use of bursts of static and hazy resolution as a narrative effect. Rarely does a segment go more than five minutes without a blast of chaotic static across the screen, and it grows tiresome quickly. When used as a transitional effect -- to bring us out of one story and into another -- it's effective. Yet too often it's used to be jarring or startling, and it doesn't take long for it to simply be annoying. This, coupled with the fact that the films are heavily edited -- thereby disengaging you from the whole "found footage" conceit -- means that just from the basic premise, we're off top a rough start.

Yet that misstep can be overcome if the shorts -- and the project as a whole -- are engaging and affecting. And the concept is a nifty one -- Wingard's Tape 56 deals with a collection of obnoxious miscreants who trash houses and assault women for kicks, and are hired to steal a specific video tape from a house. While there, they encounter a dead body and a pile of video tapes and each of them watches a different tape to try to discover the one they've been tasked with finding. It's an interesting technique for introducing the various other films, and on that level, it works. The rest of the segment is rather nonsensical, and since the characters are all worthless jerks and thus it's hard to become too invested in the story itself.

The remaining five segments are about as mixed a bag as you're likely to find. As you may be able to tell from the handful of aforementioned directors, there's several members of the same mumblecore family, and their attempts to tackle horror films range from intriguing (and occasionally genuinely scary) to flat-out awful. The first segment after the intro to Tape 56 sets the stage is Amateur Night, about another group of morally bankrupt jackasses. In this case, they're hoping to bring a woman home and then videotape one of them having sex with her. The characters are actually far more unlikable than that makes them out to be, as hard as that is to believe. The piece, directed by David Bruckner, is an utter failure for the first ten minutes, consisting of inane and puerile dialogue and loud, disjointed visuals, though it does somewhat salvage itself once the twist is revealed and the boys realize that they have bitten off far more than they can chew with their choice of targets.

After that, we have what is easily the weakest entry, Second Honeymoon, which concerns a boring, passionless and irritating couple on a roadtrip who have a brief and unsettling encounter with a strange girl at their hotel. It's an lazy, burdensomely dull affair and not even spurting blood and prurient, indulgent displays of lesbianism can really save it. Fortunately, it's also one of the shortest segments. It's followed by Glenn McQuaid's Tuesday The 17th, which is a clever entry that's dulled by some stunted dialogue, but still overall works. Four friends are on a trip to the woods where a series of murders took place years ago, and you can probably see where it goes from there. However, the piece is far more intelligent, plotting-wise, and it manages to do a solid job of subverting the slasher-in-the-woods genre and creating a new and interesting variation.

The final two pieces are easily the strongest entries -- Joe Swanberg's The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger and the quartet of film makers known as Radio Silence's 10/31/98. Swanberg's entry features a long distance couple communicating via webcam, while the woman, Emily is clearly showing the effects of a nervous breakdown that's compounded by her new apartment being haunted by creepy childlike specters. The film gives no explanation for its bizarre and utterly disturbing conclusion (actually, none of them do), yet it works both in spite of and because of that bewildering creepiness. The final entry is probably the best in terms of conventional horror stories -- four friends headed to a Halloween party find the house abandoned, but they're definitely not alone. The segment veers into some truly creepy visuals, human sacrifice and demonic possession, and also features a truly harrowing escape sequence. By the end, I found it to be the most satisfying of all.

The wholesale problems that plague V/H/S are myriad, however. There's a deliberately amateurish feel to most of the sequences, which is to be expected given the micro-budgets and genre itself. The issue here is that at times it seems more like it's because it's literally just plain old amateurish film making. The directors seem to rely on a certain amount of improvisation, something that fellows like Swanberg are renowned for, but that frequently falls flat because of weak -- and at times heinous -- performances. Swanberg is also responsible for the reprehensibly pointless, navel-gazing Silver Bullets, and while his entry here is far superior to that mess, it still falls victim to one of the same artifices that stood out the most, namely weak and unpleasant female characterizations.

Actually, it's not fair to paint Swanberg as the sole perpetrator of that particular transgression. For reasons I cannot fathom, overall the women are portrayed pretty awfully in these films (with Tuesday the 17th being the lone exception). They're undressed, exposed, manipulated, abused, molested and generally treated like trash by almost every character in almost every sequence, and if there's a purpose to it, it escaped me. This ties into the next issue and a large reason that the film stumbles overall, which is that the characters are frequently terribly written. They're underdeveloped, shiftless, unlikable, and utterly lacking in purpose or appeal. Perhaps that's done with reason, yet all it does is disengage the viewer by eliminating any sense of empathy.

The film eschews many of the conventional filming approaches and instead has a rambling, insipidly mundane indie feel that on occasion staggers towards the dreaded mumblecore, and while that can sometimes work in the dramatic realm, here it frequently blows up in their faces. More often than not, we end up with an introductory narrative that feels tediously monotonous, with paper-thin characters that are both boring and offensive. It's an extended feeling of muddled and dysfunctional dialogue that's abruptly interrupted by an explosion of bloodcurdling violence and unpleasant goriness, creating a severely disjointed and disruptive viewing experience (not helped by being far too long -- at two hours, it just felt interminable at parts). Sometimes it succeeds, in some it fails, but taken as a whole V/H/S feels self-indulgent, excessive, and often simply dull.

V/H/S is in select theaters and also available via iTunes and Amazon Instant.



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Comments Are Welcome, Jerks Will Be Banned


  • Watched it last night, really bad movie. Not scary other than a couple of "wtf?!" shocks, extremely brutal kill scenes, no resolution to any stories. The last story was decent, maybe because the characters were not awful, and had some good special effects. But it's not worth the trouble to get there. Worse, the shaki-cam is nauseating throughout, and I rarely have problems with found footage movies. Interesting idea, awful execution. It's mostly a repugnant movie to be honest.

  • ChunLiKicksYourFace

    There are probably a million ways to look at this movie, but at its most basic level, it will get your adrenaline pumping. I was pretty jumpy for a while after it ended (The jitters could have also come from the nearly liter-sized "medium" diet coke i got, just to qualify). If you like feeling scared, you'll like V/H/S. One of its saving graces is that if you hate the current story, it will spin along to a new one soon enough. Like horror movie roulette? In any case, at least one of them will get you. The main story got less annoying and increasingly creepy as time went on. It was kind of like a bonus movie you got for sitting through the rest of the show.
    RE: treatment of women
    The female depictions aren't the best, but I don't remember there being any rape in this movie. I mean, the delinquent horrible guys were definitely doing some illegal/immoral stuff, but it wasn't torture or porn or any combo of the two. I have a pretty weak stomach for that kind of attacking and would definitely say if it was a disturbing scene. I guess, as a lady horror fan, I'm used to that sort of vibe so it didn't seem to be any worse here. Would definitely be cool to see the horror perspective of young women directors to see how the focus would differ. The genre can always use a fresh perspective even if it's just to find new scares for the audience.

  • scaldinggrey

    I'm just going to come out and say it, I'm sick of seeing rape depicted in movies (and yes, I do realize that at times it's an important plot device and can convey an important message, etc, but that's not the point here). I'm sick of seeing dudebros who have no concept of the world beyond their own penis saying "Oh you know what would be a good idea? Let's have this chick totally get raped and make sure she's covered in blood!" and then have her get "revenge" which somehow makes it all okay. The victim is almost always a conventionally attractive woman, and boy do they make sure she screams and cries and gets naked for the camera.
    The real face of rape is not a sexualized display, but one of a being losing his/her power because some asshole thinks that they deserve complete sovereignty over another person's body (I think it's also important to note that in the novel, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Lisbeth does get revenge but she never kills anyone). If art/film is supposed to be a mirror held up to society, it's fucking scary to be a woman in this so-called progressive era.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Watch the movie. Your rant has little to do with it.

  • scaldinggrey

    Yeah, I was going off the line: "For reasons I cannot fathom, overall the women are portrayed pretty awfully in these films (with Tuesday the 17th
    being the lone exception). They’re undressed, exposed, manipulated,
    abused, molested and generally treated like trash by almost every
    character in almost every sequence, and if there’s a purpose to it, it
    escaped me"
    Thanks for playing, though.

  • Fabius_Maximus

    Only that TK is wrong here. Yes, there is nakedness and mistreatment in the first, fourth and fifth chapters, but it's important for the story in both (and turns on the perpetrators in the first).

    The fourth chapter has one short scene of gratuitous nudity (to show that she is comfortable of stripping for her boyfriend on webcam), and I agree that the treatment of the woman is not very nice. But it has nothing to do with sexualisation or being in control of her (at least not by the perp).

    The only female character in the last chapter could have been anyone, and of any gender. You can't even see her clearly. I guess they took a woman because they felt a woman screaming for help has a much more horrifying effect on the audience.

    All in all, the whole affair is pretty much balanced.

  • I have a question about a plot point in "Second Honeymoon."

    SPOILER

    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    The footage makes a point of showing that the wife locks the hotel door with that lever-lock. How does the mysterious woman get in, then?
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    .
    END SPOILER

  • Fabius_Maximus

    She already was? Under the bed, maybe.

  • Zen

    Is that LaToya Jackson up there? Dang, that's scary.

  • MurderBot

    For a split second I thought that was Michael Jackson in the header pic and the thought of clicking this article scared the bejeezuz outta me.

    But then I realized it's not and that it's just a film review. Phew!

  • BWeaves

    Remember, the image of a Weeping Angel is still a Weeping Angel.

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